A bartender pouring a glass of wine

Empty Nests asked to spare their rooms as critical housing shortage rages in tropical paradise

A major campaign to find beds for tourism workers has been launched as a crippling housing shortage combined with the return of international tourists threatens to derail the industry.

The tourism mecca of Far North Queensland, Port Douglas – long favored by US presidents and celebrities – has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country, at just 0.4%.

Tara Bennett, managing director of Tourism Port Douglas and Daintree, said the Adopt a Worker project asks the community to offer “any space they may have to accommodate our much-needed seasonal workers” in exchange for money.

“If you have a spare bedroom, a grandma’s apartment, a vacant lot suitable for a tent or a van, we invite you to adopt a worker,” Ms Bennett said.

Tara Bennett, CEO of Tourism Port Douglas and Daintree, has launched a campaign to ‘adopt a worker’ due to a crippling housing shortage.(ABC News: Kristy Sexton-McGrath)

“We are seeing a lot of interest from people who want to come and work in the region, the destination is attractive, especially in winter, but once they arrive they are [not] to find accommodation.

Rhys Bawden owns Salsa Bar and Grill near the Port Douglas waterfront, which recently celebrated its 27th anniversary.

The man stands outside the restaurant
Salsa Bar and Grill owner Rhys Bawden said his current staff were being forced out of Port Douglas due to rising rents and lack of accommodation.(ABC Far North Qld: Kristy Sexton-McGrath)

Dozens of plates signed by Hollywood stars such as Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson adorn the walls, while singers Ed Sheeran and Kylie Minogue also popped in for a meal.

He said the critical housing shortage was impacting businesses.

An image of the Port Douglas foreshore with the slogan Adopt A Worker
Tourism Port Douglas and Daintree are asking empty nests and those with vacant rooms to consider renting space to seasonal hospitality workers. (Provided: Port Douglas and Daintree Tourism)

“We have staff who have lived and worked in Port Douglas for over 15 years, who lose their homes to rent increases that make them unaffordable, or properties that are taken out of the rental pool to become holiday homes,” Mr Bawden said.

Road to recovery

It has been a disastrous two years for Far North Queensland’s tourism industry with border closures due to COVID-19 crippling an industry that was once worth $2.5 billion a year to the local economy.

But there are signs of recovery. Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show there were 29,780 short-term visitor arrivals to Queensland in March this year, an increase of 28,410 on the same period the previous year.

Port Douglas tour operator Steve Edomondson on a boat in Port Douglas Marina, September 2021.
Steve Edmondson runs a reef tour business and says forward international bookings are stronger than pre-COVID levels.(ABC News: Nathan Morris)

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